Theresa “Terry” Lyons did not create Lyons & Associates in Somerville to be a silo.
She founded the family law firm to make a difference, not only for her employees and their clients, but also the communities they serve.
That is why one of the top matrimonial and family law attorneys in the state was hell-bent on creating the first free smartphone application that would enable users to easily obtain information on divorce, calculate estimated child support and be instantly connected to domestic violence and child abuse hotlines in the state of New Jersey.
“Not only is our app free, but you also do not have to be our client to download it,” Lyons, the managing partner of her firm, said. “Various mental health and law enforcement professionals have said that this app has been an incredibly useful tool for them and their clients to have at their fingertips.”
It’s just one of the many ways Lyons & Associates has strived to connect with its surrounding communities without solely considering the monetary value of their time and efforts.
After earning her undergraduate degree from Montclair State University, Lyons was part of the first group of students to graduate from a dual-degree program at Rutgers University, earning her law degree from Rutgers University Law School at Camden and her master’s degree in social work at the New Brunswick campus in 2001.
She then accepted a judicial clerkship with the New Jersey Supreme Court and a lucrative position at the large law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath.
But, it wasn’t until she received a call from a former mentee that she began to think less about the potential wealth she would garner and more about the communities she always had intended to protect, she said.
“There was this young woman my wife and I had mentored back when we were 19 and she was 3 years old,” Lyons said. “And, when she was a freshman in college, she called my office on a random Tuesday night, as I was surrounded by books and papers, and said, ‘I loved you then — what are you doing now?’
“I took a hard look at the track that I was on and instead decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur.”
Lyons founded Lyons & Associates in 2004 to better combine her interests in social work and law within her own family law practice.
“At Lyons & Associates, we do not measure our success as attorneys as to whether we win or lose, because, in family law, if you’re in the middle of a divorce or fighting over custody or there is domestic violence, there often are no winners in those scenarios. Even those who win, don’t, really,” Lyons said. “We instead measure our success on three criteria: Have we met our clients where they are on their journey? Did we fight zealously on their behalf? And did we act ethically in our dealings with all parties?
“We also measure our wins on being able to stand next to our clients in moments of crisis. Lawyers are called a lot of things, some of which are pretty funny, but we’re also called counsel for a reason. And I think that is the reason why our firm is continually knocking it out of the park and growing.”
Lyons & Associates currently employs 14, including seven lawyers, with plans to hire more next year.
“Only about 19 percent of lawyers across the nation accept judicial clerkships. But you cannot work here unless you have clerked for the Supreme Court,” Lyons said. “Because, when you combine that kick-ass intellect with humility and humanity, that is an awesome recipe for success.”
The firm has grown more than 15 percent this year due to an increasing number of cases and repeat referrals, as well as its more than 10,000 Twitter followers and 2,700 Facebook followers.
“Here’s the other reason why I know we’re getting it right: We are representing more and more lawyers for their own family law issues,” Lyons said.
Lyons & Associates’ practice areas range from the good — adoptions, for example — to the difficult, such as juvenile delinquencies, child abuse and domestic violence.
Only 50 percent of the case load is divorces.
And, Lyons said, with 52 percent of children under the age of 18 living in homes that are no longer considered “traditional,” such as homes with single parents, blended families, same-sex parents, grandparents, adoptive families and more, the cases she does see are more complicated than ever.
Lyons said she knows she doesn’t have the bandwidth to help everyone. That’s where the app comes in.
To start, the Lyons & Associates mobile app provides those in the community suffering from domestic violence or child abuse with help and additional information with just one click of a button.
“You will not only be instantly connected to a domestic violence hotline, but also will have the ability to locate a domestic violence shelter within every single county of the state of New Jersey,” Lyons said. “Additionally, many times, people in the community may see something and wonder what to do. With one click, they can instantly be provided with information on how and when to report child abuse or neglect, as well as be connected to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency.”
There are also links to Lyons & Associates’ free educational blog, featuring advice and information on topics such as who gets to decide about private school, proving cohabitation, what happens with special needs kids who will never be emancipated, the inclusion of cyberharassment in the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act and more.
“For example, on Sept. 11, we posted a blog within the app regarding specific and unique family law issues for first responders related to compensation and parenting time,” Lyons said.
The app also includes features such as the ability to calculate child support or the ability to take quick notes when needed.
“Let’s say you’re involved in a dispute and you come up with a thought or instantly stumble across a document that you don’t have time to take and make a photocopy of,” Lyons said. “This quickly permits you to use your phone to snap a picture of the document, jot a note and email it to your own attorney.”
There are admittedly numerous ways to connect with Lyons & Associates, too, with links to its services and social media and what to do if you have been served.
“Those are the portions of the app that drag traffic to our website,” Lyons said. “The reality is that Lyons & Associates is still a business, and we want people to hire us.
“But what I like about this app is that it is one of the few tools that I have seen that legitimately serves as a both a service to the greater community and drives business and recognition to our firm. It’s very difficult to find that sweet spot.”
Though the mobile application has been available for more than a year, Lyons said she and her firm made the decision to invest in massive updates for it this year.
“It used to be a simple app that easily connected those in need to domestic and child abuse hotlines,” Lyons said. “Now, we’ve enhanced and expanded it to include a wealth of educational materials, and we also have updated the child support calculator to consider new changes to New Jersey laws and taxes.
“People have come in to consult with us that have not ultimately hired us but have still found our app to be an incredibly useful tool.”
The app also serves as a reminder, Lyons said, that Lyons & Associates is certainly not “Terry Lyons’ shop” anymore.
“The reality is that 90 percent of the lawyering done around here is not done by me,” Lyons said. “Our lawyers are the smartest, sharpest, coolest people, whom I actually enjoy hanging around with.
“And, I have to say, it is pretty damn cool to be creating jobs and wealth while also serving clients at this time in human history. To be a lawyer currently, when the law is changing so rapidly, to be a woman at this place and time in history, is both exciting and very scary. So, I have resigned myself as a female entrepreneur in the state of New Jersey to being in this perpetual game of pingpong between burdens and blessings.
“On any given day, I’m not sure which way the pingpong ball is going to bounce, but I am damn psyched to be in the game.”
‘Terry’s Take’ on current events
The simple act of turning on a television in America today can have traumatic effects for victims of abuse.
Her clients are no different, Theresa “Terry” Lyons of Lyons & Associates said.
“Do I believe that my clients’ daily lives have been impacted by current events and the increase in reporting on sexual assault and cyber-invasions of privacy? Yes, I do.
“Is the law completely caught up yet? No, it is not,” she said.
However, Lyons said many amendments have been made to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act in New Jersey this year.
“For example, it used to be that, under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, there were jurisdictional requirements that stated you had to be in a relationship, and there were all kinds of litigation as to what constituted a relationship,” Lyons said. “Then came a number of accusations in the workplace and, frankly, on college campuses, of rape and assault, in which the victims were not able to get restraining orders because they were not in a relationship.
“The law also used to define harassment as someone making an alarming communication to you. But, what if I put a threat on Facebook? What if I didn’t say it to you, but about you? People couldn’t get restraining orders.”
Even though those laws have since changed, Lyons said much more continues to need to be done.
“We at Lyons & Associates are still pushing that frontier to try to get the laws caught up to people’s lives,” she said.
Three things to know about Theresa Lyons
- In 2015, Theresa “Terry” Lyons of Lyons & Associates recounted her many stories and experiences in a best-selling book, “Sticks and Stones: Life Lessons from a Lawyer.”
- Lyons serves on the board of trustees of WINGS for Growth, a not-for-profit organization that helps pair young women professionals with senior-level executives in hopes of accelerating their leadership capacities and trajectories.
- Lyons and her wife have been both foster parents to two children currently reunified with their biological families and adoptive parents of two children.
Reach Terry Lyons at: 908-575-9777, and download the app at: lyonspc.com/download-our-mobile-app.